Christian Polemic and Mythological Degradation

Venus Militaris and Puerorum Stupra in the Fourth Book of Arnobius’ Aduersus nationes

FRANCESCO LUBIAN (Università degli Studi di Macerata/Universität Wien)

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Abstract:    This paper deals with the interpretation of a passage from Arnobius’ Aduersus nationes (4,7), providing a little example of the application of data and results of the culture-historical research on ancient sexuality to canonical problems of source-oriented literary research. The unattested goddess called by Arnobius Venus Militaris, who presides over puerorum stupris, might well have been shaped under the influence of the famous Spartan Aphrodite hoplisméne; however, this mythological figure has in Arnobius no relationship with the heterosexual connotation of the naked Aphrodite in arms, like in Lactantius’ aetiological account (Diu. inst. 1,20,27.32), but rather alludes to the sexual exploitation of young male soldiers in Roman castra, a phenomenon attested by numerous reports. For Arnobius, Venus Militaris is a degraded deity who protects despicable sexual behaviours: the Christian polemist transfigured a mythological and religious-historical datum in a way which is both functional to his polemic against the pagan world and difficult to recognize for a canonical, ‘single-source’ oriented Quellenforschung.

About the Author:    Francesco Lubian obtained his B.A. and M.A. in Classics at the Università degli Studi di Padova (Italy), and has been awarded the 2011 edition of the Arenberg-Coimbra Group Prize, for the best Master thesis composed during an exchange program between two members of the Coimbra Group association (in his case, the University of Padua and the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg). He is currently a PhD Student in ‘‘Greek and Latin Poetry and Culture of the Late Antiquity” at the Università degli Studi di Macerata and at the Universität Wien. His PhD project, dedicated to the so-called tituli historiarum from the Latin Late Antiquity, is entitled: ‘‘Ambrosii Disticha, Prudentii Dittochaeon, Miracula Christi, Rustici Helpidii Tristicha de ueteri et nouo Testamento: Introduction, revised text, translation, and commentary”.